By Paul Osborne, Guelph Tribune
Guelph Storm goaltender Garret Sparks can’t really explain it and neither can his coach Scott Walker. It has been feast or famine for the 19-year-old netminder over the last seven games. In Sault Ste. Marie October 21st he made 45 saves in a 7-1 Storm win. Up next was Windsor where he was pulled after allowing four goals in a period and a half but followed that up by making 42 saves and stopping all five London players he saw in the shootout to preserve a win on the road. 24 hours later he gets yanked again after allowing six goals in just over two periods. This past Friday night the trend continued with Sparks standing on his head to receive first star honours in a 4-1 win over Oshawa, before getting the old shepherds staff the next night after looking flimsy, giving up three goals in just twelve minutes. That meant he’d be good Sunday against London and he was, allowing just one goal in a 3-0 loss to London (with two empty net goals).
The one thing a goaltender strives for is consistency but so far Sparks hasn’t been able to hit the mark. Jonathan Quick one night; Gone Pretty Quick the next.
“I’m not sure what is going on,” said the affable goaltender after Sunday’s game. “I can’t say I’ve ever had a stretch like this where I’m hot and cold. I’m not doing anything different before games.”
It must be frustrating for the coaches who can see that the Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick can come up with big games, but just as quickly lose that mojo.
“I don’t want him thinking that I’m going to be pulling him all the time because of bad play, (in Niagara) I got him out because I was monitoring his time” said Walker.
“It’s a coaching decision – one I have to learn to live with” said Sparks who admitted he had talked to the coach about his inconsistent play. “We each had valid points (in our discussion) but really I shouldn’t be giving them any reason to pull me out.”
It’s a major concern moving forward. The Storm has shown signs of being a legitimate contender in the tough Western Conference but they won’t be for long if their goaltending (and team defence) can’t be consistently good. The team’s back-up situation is also sketchy. Walker has opted to start Sparks in every game so far this season. When rookie Jason Da Silva has been asked to relieve the starter he too has failed to deliver on a regular basis. To be fair, he has had so little playing time it is tough to accurately assess his work, but just the fact that Walker has yet to start him speaks volumes.
The Storm’s fast start has surprised even those close to the team and forces a decision soon as to how close are they to making a serious run. If they think their explosion from the gate is truly who they are as a team, general manager Mike Kelly may be forced to go out and obtain a veteran back-up who can at least push Sparks to be better every night. As it stands now, the penalty for three bad starts in seven games is a guaranteed start in game eight.
From the Land of Oz…..The Storm’s 3-0 loss to London on Sunday was the first time they have been shutout this season and ended a 13-game assist streak for Tanner Richard…Newly acquired defenceman Brock Beukeboom (from Niagara for three draft picks) brought a needed veteran presence to the Storm’s blue line. He is not flashy but a solid defender…The Storm were blown out 9-4 in Niagara Saturday night with first round pick Robby Fabbri picking up his first three goals in the OHL…Guelph currently has four players out of their line-up with injuries or suspensions. Included in that group is their second best defenceman Andrey Pedan and top six forward Hunter Garlent who was really starting to click before breaking his ankle in Sault Ste. Marie. Spark plugs Tyler Bertuzzi and Patrick Watling are also nursing injuries.